What Is Sustainability All About?

There are many definitions of sustainability, nearly all derived from the Brundtland report definition “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Despite what many mistakenly think, this is a social rather than environmental objective.

Here I avoid the definition debate and propose a simple sustainability goal statement of enduring wellbeing. This goal describes a societal condition, which is a system state. All system states are transient, they change over time. Accordingly the study of sustainability needs to be a study of behaviour over time. Because human societies are part of even more complex systems, this study can only be meaningfully undertaken using systems thinking and systems analysis. This site uses these approaches to understand where we are and where we are going.

There are two dimensions to the sustainability problem:

  • The purely social interactions that affect human wellbeing; and
  • The interactions between the human world and the biosphere which we inhabit with all other life on earth, and which provides our material necessities.

Together these interactions form a global socio-ecological system.

The dynamics (meaning simply the behaviour over time) of this system will determine whether humanity achieves the sustainability goal of enduring human wellbeing or not.